Beat the January rail price hike: 10 ways to find cheaper train tickets

Oliver Gill
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Southern Train Drivers Strike For A Third Day
All many Southern rail commuters want for Christmas is rail service they can rely upon (Source: Getty)

Imagine the scene: It's 2 January, you're feeling a bit bloated and jaded after a week of Christmas excesses. You turn up to the rail station with a heavy heart as the reality of work sets in.

The queues to renew your season ticket are horrendous and in the line of morose commuters you can hear the incredulous exclamations as the people are the front the queues get to the machine or the window at the ticket office and say: "It's gone up? How much?"

Yep, rail fares at the start of next year, making our first day back just that little bit less savoury.

Read more: Here's how much train ticket prices are going up next year

Transport Focus, one of Britain's largest passenger focussed watchdogs has sympathy for the rail users' plight. Anthony Smith, the organisation's chief executive said: “Passengers will be disappointed that fares will rise by 2.3 per cent – higher than the last two years. In return passengers will now want to see the industry’s investment deliver a more reliable day-to-day railway." He added:

Many commuters, in London and the south east in particular, have suffered poor performance and will feel anger at paying more and getting less. A fares freeze for Southern passengers would help to start rebuild trust following the months of misery they have experienced.

But on Christmas Eve Eve, City A.M. does want to leave rail users feeling blue. So instead, with the help of Transport Focus below are 10 top tips for getting value for money from your train tickets – if this is possible – and reduce price users pay to travel of the nation's network.

Read more: Southern rail drivers union wants to roll back even further

1 - Beat the fare rise - buy on 31 December?

  • Book your tickets before the new fares come into effect. If you already have a ticket, it will be valid even if the fare or validity have changed.
  • If you buy a season ticket, especially an annual, get it just before 1 January to get it at the previous January’s rate.

2 - Go direct

  • Most operators’ websites do not charge booking fees. Sometimes they will offer discounts on their routes, so it might be worth checking with them before you buy.

Southern Rail And The Train Drivers Union Meet At ACAS For Talks
Nick Brown is the chief operating officer of the owner of Southern rail, Govia (Source: Getty)

​​3 - Book in advance

  • Booking an advance ticket will usually save you money. Companies start selling tickets up to 12 weeks before the journey.
  • If you miss the first batch of cheap tickets on the travel date you want, don’t give up and keep looking as more are often released later on.

4 - Say hello to my flexi-friend

  • Tick the "I’m flexible" box (usually located on the left-hand side of the machine) if you are flexible about the time of travel.
  • An alternative journey, where you travel earlier or later, might be cheaper.

5 - Breaking up is the best thing to do

  • "Split your journey": If you are travelling long distance, it might be cheaper to buy two separate tickets to your destination. For example, if you wanted to travel from A to C, you could see if buying tickets from A to B and B to C was cheaper than one ticket from A to C.
  • Transport Focus underline train firms tell staff at ticket offices they are not required to search for the cheapest ticket, so you'll need to do this before you travel.
  • Be careful: if you do this, remember to check what restrictions apply.

Chris Grayling Hosts A Q&A For The Vote  Leave Campaign
Some critics of transport secretary Chris Grayling suggest he has struggled to take control of the Southern rail debacle (Source: Getty)

6 - Railcards - they aren't just for students and pensioners

7 - Have you got more than one friend?

  • Three or more travellers may be classed as a group. Remember to check for a group option as you could save up to a third. Ten or more is always a group.

8 - Other routes/operators

  • See if other operators or routes are available. They may be cheaper than the main operators on the line.

Southern Rail And The Train Drivers Union Meet At ACAS For Talks
Mick Whelan (left) is the head of drivers union Aslef, while Mick Cash (right) is the boss of the guards' RMT union (Source: Getty)

9 - 1+1 (sometimes) equals less than 2

  • Check out single prices - when booking a return journey, check whether it’s cheaper to buy two singles as opposed to a return.

10 - Buses: buy together and you might save

  • Plusbus is a travelcard you can buy with your train ticket. It gives you bus travel to and from the station and around the area of the town or city that's at the start or end of your train journey.
  • Adding this onto your train ticket could help you save if you’re going to make a journey on the bus. You can hop-on and off buses as much as you like all day making travelling around easier and cheaper.

And finally...

Don’t forget your compo. If you are delayed more than 30 minutes on most train services, but 15 minutes on Govia (Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express) services

And if you are a monthly or annual season ticket holder on ScotRail, you can qualify for a free week next year. Southern are giving a month’s compensation to their season ticket holders next year too.

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